German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits ILRI’s campus in Nairobi, where agricultural scientists are fighting hunger

Merkel visits ILRI Nairobi: Arrival

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner, and Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), at ILRI’s campus in Nairobi, Kenya, 12 July 2011 (photo credit: ILRI).

Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Federal Republic of Germany visited Kenya today (Tue 12 Jul 2011) as the first part of a three-day, three-nation, African tour.

This morning, in the presence of the Chancellor, Merkel’s ambassador to Kenya, Ms Margit Hellwig-Boette, signed an agreement between Germany and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which is headquartered in Kenya. The signing ceremony was part of a press conference given by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga at Nairobi’s Intercontinental Hotel.

Germany has been one of ILRI’s top donors for many years, contributing more than USD11 million in just the past six years.

The new agreement Germany and ILRI signed launches a project Germany is funding in Kenya to be led by ecology researchers at ILRI and local partners in Kenya. The study will assess the state of Kenya’s ‘eco-conservancies’, which strive to benefit both Kenya’s wildlife and the pastoral people who have been stewards of wildlife in this country for centuries. The study will examine the benefits accruing from the establishment of these eco-conservancies in terms of both wildlife conservation and poverty reduction among Kenya’s pastoral communities.

Following the signing ceremony, attended by ILRI Director General Carlos Seré and ILRI’s Director of Partnerships and Communications Bruce Scott, Chancellor Merkel attended a State luncheon given by President Mwai Kibaki, to which ILRI’s director general was also invited. Chancellor Merkel then proceeded to the University of Nairobi, where she gave a keynote address.

Later in the afternoon, the Chancellor paid a visit to ILRI’s campus, in Nairobi’s Kabete suburb. Chancellor Merkel was met by ILRI Director General Seré, who welcomed her with a few remarks, noting in particular the key role science can play in helping the world feed its growing human populations.

‘Our challenge over the next four decades,’ said Seré, ‘is to feed another 2 billion people, nearly 1 billion more people in Africa alone, from the same or smaller resource base. As a scientist,’ Seré told the Chancellor, ‘I’m sure you appreciate how important research is to rising to the global challenge to feed the world sustainably.’

The ILRI director general then described the benefits of ILRI-German partnerships over many years in diverse fields, from climate change adaptation to carbon sequestration schemes to vaccine development, all conducted in Kenya; to increasing water-use efficiencies on mixed crop-livestock farms in the Nile Basin; to forestalling parasite drug resistance in West Africa; to ensuring safe milk, meat and egg production and marketing in southern Africa.

Seré concluded by requesting the Chancellor’s help in raising awareness in Germany and elsewhere of the importance of science in helping this continent to become food secure.

‘Please tell your listeners that science partnerships in this matter matter,’ said Seré.

‘Only through such partnerships will we manage to tackle the world’s increasingly complex development problems.’

Madam Chancellor Merkel visits ILRI Nairobi Campus 11 July 2011

Chancellor Angela Merkel making a few remarks at ILRI (photo credit: ILRI).

Chancellor Merkel than made a few remarks to the ILRI and diplomatic communities assembled outside ILRI’s new greenhouse.

After this, ILRI’s Carlos Seré and Bruce Scott led the German Chancellor on a tour of a few of ILRI’s advanced biosciences laboratories, where Merkel spoke to several scientists about their research on the crops and farm animals that are the mainstay of poor people throughout the developing world.

Merkel visits ILRI Nairobi: Carlos Seré thanks the Chancellor

ILRI Director General Carlos Seré and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at ILRI (photo credit: ILRI).

The afternoon ended with ILRI’s Carlos Seré thanking the Chancellor for taking the time in her busy schedule to see at first-hand some of the high-quality and relevant science being conducted in Africa to solve some of Africa’s most intractable agricultural problems.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Kenya, will visit ‘model research institution in Africa’–ILRI

Biosciences eastern and central Africa hub platform

One of 7 high-tech laboratories at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub, a regional state-of-the-art science platform hosted and managed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/David White).

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has arrived in Kenya.

Her busy one-day visit to this country, the first of three countries she is visiting on her African tour, includes talks with Kenya President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

As reported in Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper on Sunday, Merkel will also hold a joint press conference with Prime Minister Odinga. At the press conference, to be held at the Intercontinental Hotel, in Nairobi’s city centre, Chancellor Merkel will sign a new agreement between her government and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which is headquartered in Kenya.

ILRI Director General Carlos Seré and Director for Partnerships and Communications Bruce Scott will attend the prime minister’s press conference and take part in the signing ceremony. Chancellor Merkel and ILRI’s Carlos Seré will then attend a State luncheon hosted by President Kibaki at State House.

After the luncheon, Chancellor Merkel is scheduled to give a speech at the University of Nairobi. She will then pay a visit to ILRI’s headquarters, in the suburb of  Kabete, where she will tour ILRI’s farm and labs, be introduced to some of the research partnerships her country is involved in, and give an address to the ILRI and diplomatic community.

The Daily Nation reports that some of Germany’s scientists are working at ILRI, which is ‘described as a model of a state-of-the-art research institution in Africa.’

President Kibaki is quite familiar himself with ILRI’s research. The president toured the laboratories at ILRI/BecA late last year (17 Nov 2010) when he officially launched the BecA Hub. And just last Friday (8 Jul 2011), the president paid a visit to an ILRI exhibit at the launch of his government’s ‘Open Data Web Portal,’ the first of its kind in Africa, at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre. At this launch, the president and several of his ministers as well as some 1,000 (techie) participants heard from ILRI scientist Andrew Mude, who presented to them a novel livestock insurance product that ILRI has initiated with private and public partners for poor livestock herders living in Kenya’s northern pastoral lands.

After her busy day today in Nairobi, Chancellor Merkel departs tonight (Tue 12 Jul 2011) for  Angola before going on to Nigeria.

This is a red-letter day for ILRI for another reason. ILRI Director General Carlos Seré, an agricultural economist from Uruguay, and his wife, Chrysille Seré, from Germany, will also be departing Kenya tonight, as it is the director general’s last official day in his Nairobi office. Carlos Seré has led ILRI for ten years, having started his tenure in January 2002. He is going on summer leave starting tonight. On 1 October of this year, Jimmy Smith, an animal scientist and policymaker from Guyana, now at the World Bank, will take over from Carlos Seré as director general of ILRI.

ILRI has had several informal goodbye parties for the Seré’s and will have one more opportunity to wish him well in the new position he is taking up in Rome at the International Fund for Agricultural Research (IFAD) at a 1.5-day ‘Seré Seminar’ that will take place this November in Addis Ababa to look back at Seré’s 10-year ILRI legacy and forward to new leadership under Smith.

ILRI staff are thus expressing to themselves how kind it is for Chancellor Merkel and President Kibaki to bid their director general farewell in suitable style at the State and ILRI functions today. :-)

Read the whole article in the Daily NationGerman leader jets in Tuesday, 10 Jul 2011.

ILRI livestock insurance innovation highlighted at launch of Kenya Government’s ‘Open Data Web Portal’

Kenya Government 'Open Data Web Portal' launch: Kenya President Mwai Kibaki and ILRI's Bruce Scott and Andrew Mude

ILRI’s Bruce Scott and Andrew Mude (right) discuss ILRI’s use of open data with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki (centre), Minister for Information and Communication Samuel Pogishio (centre left), Permanent Secretary Ministry of Information and Communication Bitange Ndemo (centre right), and other dignitaries when they visited ILRI’s booth at the launch of the Kenya Government’s ‘Open Data Web Portal’ on 8 Jul 2011 in Nairobi (photo credit: ILRI/Njiru).

An ‘Index-Based Livestock Insurance’ project led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) was today (8 July 2011) highlighted as one of the successful, innovative and technology-driven initiatives using open data to create solutions that contribute towards helping Kenya achieve its long-term national development plan.

Speaking during the presidential launch of the ‘Kenya Government Open Data Web portal’ at Nairobi’s Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Andrew Mude, a scientist with ILRI who leads the Index-Based Livestock Insurance project, described how the project has developed an insurance model for pastoralist livestock keepers using open data. The project uses satellite-based readings of forage cover to find out how much fodder is available for livestock in northern Kenya and the data is combined with livestock mortality data from the Kenya Arid Lands Management project to predict livestock deaths against which livestock herders can insure themselves.

‘This model allows us to predict the current state of livestock mortality in northern Kenya. It currently shows there is a high livestock mortality rate in Marsabit District, which means that insurance may be paid to pastoralists this year,’ said Mude. Marsabit District, in Kenya’s northern drylands, is currently facing a severe drought that is also affecting Somalia and southern Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa.

Stared in January 2010, the Index-Based Livestock Insurance project is insuring over 2600 households in Marsabit, which is helping livestock keepers there to sustain their livelihoods. The project is supported by the World Bank, the UK Department for International Development and the United States Agency for International Development, among other donors. It has received considerable support from the Kenya Government and recently received the Vision 2030 ICT award for ‘solutions that drive economic development as outlined in Kenya’s Vision 2030.’

Kenya President Mwai Kibaki officially opened the Kenya Government Open Data portal. He said the new open data platform would allow policymakers and researchers to find timely information to guide-decision making. ‘This launch is an important step towards ensuring government information is made readily available to Kenyans and will allow citizens to track the delivery of services,’ Kibaki said.

The new Kenya Government Open Data Web portal will make available to the public several large government datasets, including information on population, education, healthcare and government spending in an easy to search and view format. The portal will allow Kenyans to search and display national and county-level data in graphs and maps for easy comparison and analysis of information.

The launch brought together government officials, policymakers and ICT-sector players who are using open data to build applications that take information closer to Kenyans. Among today’s presentations was the National Council for Law Reporting Kenya Law Reports website, which is making available to the public for the first time the Kenya Gazette (from 1899 to 2011) and all of Kenya’s parliamentary proceedings since 1960.

‘Open data leads to open knowledge, which leads to open solutions and open development,’ said Johannes Zutt, World Bank Country Director for Kenya, who shared lessons from the World Bank’s experience and said open data can ‘fuel innovation in Kenya’s technology sector.’

‘This is a turning point in Kenya’s history,’ said Bruce Scott, ILRI’s director of Partnerships and Communications. ‘Kenya is among the first African countries that have made available this kind of information to their citizens online; this will empower its people in line with the country’s new constitution. ILRI is happy to be associated with this event.’

For more information about IBLI see the following.
ILRI news articles
http://www.ilri.org/ilrinews/index.php/archives/5000
http://www.ilri.org/ilrinews/index.php/archives/3180

Short video
http://blip.tv/ilri/development-of-the-world-s-first-insurance-for-african-pastoralist-herders-3776231

To read more about the Kenya Open Data portal, visit their website:
http://www.opendata.go.ke

Visit the IBLI project website

ILRI livestock insurance project features in presidential launch of Kenya Government’s ‘Open Data Web Portal’

Training livestock herders in Marsabit in new insurance scheme available

The Index-Based Livestock Insurance project, which works with pastoral livestock keepers in Kenya’s Marsabit District, is being highlighted in a launch on 8 July 2011 of the Kenya Government’s Open Data Web portal (photo credit: ILRI/Mude).

Andrew Mude, a scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) who leads an ‘Index-Based Livestock Insurance’ project, on 8 July 2011 will describe how his project is using satellite imagery to provide the first livestock insurance to pastoral livestock herders in Kenya’s northern drylands. He is making this presentation at the launch of a new Kenya Government Open Data Web portal. The launch will be opened by Kenya President Mwai Kibaki at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, in Nairobi’s city centre.

The Index-Based Livestock Insurance project is a novel scheme that provides livestock insurance against animal losses to over 2000 households in Kenya’s Marsabit District. This insurance product, the first to ever be offered in the district, is helping livestock keepers to sustain their livelihoods during droughts. The project was started by ILRI in partnership with UAP insurance and Equity Bank, along with other partners, in January 2010.

The new Kenya Government Open Data Web portal is one of the first in sub-Saharan Africa and it will, for the first time, make several large government datasets available to the public in an easy to search and view format. The portal will allow Kenyans to search and display national and county-level data in graphs and maps and allow for easy comparison and analysis of information.

The launch of Kenya Government Open Web portal is also bringing together over 30 exhibitors who will showcase their use of technology to share information. ILRI has an exhibit showcasing its Index-Based Livestock Insurance project.

Use of open-source technology to store, analyze, manage and display data is on the rise in Kenya and recently received a boost with the launching of  Virtual Kenya, a new website that hosts maps and spatial data about the country, making them available for use by citizens. Started by Upande Ltd., a Nairobi-based technology company, Virtual Kenya, has expressed interest in hosting some of the data generated by ILRI’s Index-Based Livestock Insurance project to demonstrate how open-source technologies are improving information access in the country.

Critically low forage availability in Marsabit District in June 2011

Map showing the critically low forage availability in Kenya’s Marsabit District in June 2011; the entire district is at acute (red) to severe (black) low levels of forage to feed the district’s many livestock (map by ILRI’s Index-Based Livestock Insurance project and made available on the Virtual Kenya website).

One such map generated by data from the Index-Based Livestock Insurance project is already available on the Virtual Kenya website. The map shows viewers that in the current severe drought affecting northern Kenya, as well as southern Ethiopia and Somalia, throughout Marsabit District livestock forage availability is at acutely to severely low levels. That is, the amount of forage available to feed the pastoral livestock herds that support most people’s livelihoods in this district is significantly below long-run averages for this time of year, indicating that many of the domesticated livestock are expected to starve. (The next rains in the region are not due until October.)

In April 2011, ILRI’s Index-Based Livestock Insurance project won the Vision 2030 ICT Innovation Award for ‘the overall best innovation for their mobile-ICT-based livestock insurance solution.’ This award event was organized by the Kenya ICT board and the Kenya Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat, which said the ILRI project was ‘a promising and exciting innovation in insurance design that allows the risk-management benefits of insurance to be made available to poor and remote clients.’

The Index-Based Livestock Insurance project also won a best-practice award from the Poverty Reduction, Equity and Growth Network in recognition of its innovative approach in combining scientific research and practical solutions; that award was bestowed in September 2010 in South Africa.

To find out more about the Open Data Web portal, visit the Kenya ICT board website: http://www.ict.go.ke/

Visit the IBLI project website

A regional biosciences hub in and for Africa: One woman’s personal, and institutional, odyssey

Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) is a regional research platform located in Nairobi, Kenya, that was officially launched by Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki and other dignitaries in November 2010. The BecA Hub gives scientists and students from across the region access to state-of-the-art facilities in the life sciences.

One woman’s long-term commitment is responsible for much of this achievement. Gabrielle Persley is an eminent Australian plant scientist who directs a Doyle Foundation, named after her late husband, Jack Doyle, who for some two decades served as deputy director general-research of the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases, a predecessor of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. For the last several years, Persley has served as senior advisor to ILRI’s director general, Carlos Seré.

In this 15-minute ILRI film, Persley describes an eventful, multi-year, and at times seemingly heroic, odyssey as she and others at ILRI, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the Canadian International Development Agency, along with other organizations, nursed the BecA Hub project at ILRI from the drawing board through political deliberations and, finally, into a brand spanking new laboratory complex on ILRI’s campus serving as a regional biosciences resource.

This was Persley’s last seminar at ILRI, before she left to return to her native Australia, where she is continuing her life-long work for international agricultural research for development with Australia’s Crawford Fund and other institutions and initiatives.

For more about the BecA Hub, visit the BecA Hub website.

Or watch this 7-minute ILRI film describing the work being done at the BecA Hub done by young scientists and students.

Or watch this 3-minute ILRI photofilm that, through photographs and quotations, sums up the November 2010 opening of the research facility by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and other dignitaries.

Biosciences in and for Africa: A round-up of reports about the official opening of Nairobi’s Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub

10BecA_Opening

Kenya President Mwai Kibaki receives flowers from Renee Njunge on his arrival at ILRI for the official opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub on 5 November 2010. Looking on is Beth Mugo, the minister for public health and sanitation (photo credit: ILRI/Masi).

On 5 November 2010, Kenya President Mwai Kibaki officially opened the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, a world-class biosciences research facility based in Africa and working for Africa.

Located at, and managed by, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya, the BecA Hub provides a common biosciences research platform and related services and capacity-building to the science community in Africa and beyond.

The laboratory facility at the Hub brings to par Africa’s research capability with that of the world’s most developed countries. Africa’s scientists, students and global partners can now conduct advanced biosciences research, and get advanced training in biosciences, without leaving the continent. The Hub is a focal point for the African agricultural research community and its global partners.

The BecA Hub began in 2004 as part of an African Biosciences Initiative of the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development. This initiative was part of a framework of Centres of Excellence for Science and Technology in Africa and the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme.

The Hub is supported by many partners and donors. The Canadian International Development Agency funded renovation of laboratories already existing at ILRI’s Nairobi campus as well as construction of new facilities. The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture is helping to fund the BecA Hub’s operations through 2014. Other investors are supporting specific research and training projects at the Hub.

The official opening at ILRI brought together government officials, donor representatives, researchers and the local community in a colourful celebration of the contributions agricultural research is making in addressing some of Africa’s most pressing problems.

For more information about the BecA Hub, visit hub.africabiosciences.org and www.ilri.org or email BecA-Hub@cgiar.org.

Watch a short video film about what young students and scientists think about working at the Hub: ‘The BecA Hub at ILRI—A new research facility in Africa and for Africa’.

Watch a 5-minute photofilm that captures the main messages and spirit of the opening ceremony last November (2010): ‘Opening ceremony – Biosciences eastern and central Africa research facilities’

See photographs of the opening ceremony on ILRI’s Flickr page: ‘2010 BecA Hub Opening’.

Read articles that appeared in the media about the opening:
Highlights from speeches at the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub at ILRI
New law to promote agricultural development, says Kibaki
New laws key in war on hunger: Kibaki

Listen to three of the speeches made at the opening ceremony:
Carlos Seré on the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub
NEPAD welcomes opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub
Canadian High Commissioner celebrates birth of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub

If pigs could fly: Reducing the ‘gender asset gap’ in agricultural development–the beginnings of a ‘transformative gender’ paradigm shift?

10GenderWorkshop_AtPresidentialRedCarpet_GroupPhoto1

RED CARPET WELCOME: His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, President of the Republic of Kenya, generously allowed his presidential red carpet to be briefly used for a photograph of a group of pro-women agricultural scientists this month at the International Livestock Research Institute (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

Unusually, and, if truth be said, thrillingly, the Nairobi headquarters of the International Livestock Research Institute and BecA—a Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub that ILRI hosts and manages—have, within the space of 12 months, been visited by two very seriously important persons: Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in early December 2009; and Mwai Kibaki, president of the Republic of Kenya, early this month (November 2010).

Biotech men
Both VIPs expressed excitement in, and support for, BecA’s recently launched state-of-the-art biosciences facilities, which they happily toured, donning crisp white lab coats to inspect BecA’s ultra-modern, super-molecular laboratories, including a half-million-dollar ‘454’ DNA sequencer, a space-agey-looking biosafety containment facility and a shiny brand-new greenhouse.
 

Bill Gates visits the BecA Hub at ILRI in December 2009

BILL GATES, Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and former CEO of Microsoft, toured the ultra-modern laboratories of BecA at ILRI last December (2009) (photo credit: ILRI/Ouma).
 

BecA official opening, 5 November 2010

HIS EXCELLENCY Kenya President Mwai Kibaki on a tour of the same labs this November (2010), led by BecA Hub Director Segenet Kelemu (third from left) (photo credit: ILRI/Masi).
 
The feminization of biotech
While the entourages of both Gates (who was on a private visit) and Kibaki (on a State visit) were mostly male, BecA’s director, Ethiopian Segenet Kelemu; as well as a key initiator and supporter of BecA, Australian Gabrielle Persley; and some half the students and African scientists the VIPs met and interviewed while they toured the labs, were female. On both visits, our male VIPs appeared impressed by the high 'girl power' in these high-tech labs. And so they should have been, both VIPs coming of age (Gates is 55 this year, Kibaki, 79) when such visible expression of the closing of the gender gap was rare.

BecA official opening, 5 November 2010

POLITICIANS AND SCIENTISTS: Segenet Kelemu, director of the BecA Hub at ILRI, explains to President Kibaki the significance of a metal and glass sculpture of a DNA helix unveiled by the president at the official opening of the Hub earlier this month (5 November 2010) (photo credit: ILRI/Njuguna).
 
Closing the gender gap
Fortuitously and aptly, then, on the morning of President Kibaki’s visit to ILRI on 5 November 2010 to officially open the BecA Hub, another meeting, arranged by research groups much earlier than the State visit was arranged, was starting in another venue on the same ILRI campus, far from the imposing presidential dais, marching band, schoolgirl choir and guest and refreshment tents erected and assembled down the hill, in front of ILRI’s Mara House office building.
 
Back up the hill, then, in a meeting room adjacent to a quiet quad and out of the fray, a group of (mostly) women experts on gender and agriculture in developing countries opened an ‘inception’ workshop for a new scientific project aiming to reduce inequalities between men and women (and boys and girls) in agricultural development.
 
We know that Bill Gates supports this work, because his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the project. And we suspect that President Kibaki would also be supportive. (Upon learning that a schoolgirl choir, standing near the presidential dais, had awaited his arrival from the labs for several hours to sing for him, Kibaki admonished his staff that the girls ought to be in school, this being a Friday, and instructed them to have all the schoolgirls immediately seated under the tents.)
 

10BecA_Opening_SchoolgirlChoirPassesTheRedCarpet

GIRL POWER: A schoolgirl choir walks past one of several red carpets laid out in honour of a visit to BecA and ILRI by President Mwai Kibaki (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).
 
Historic beginnings for closing the gender gap in agricultural projects
The gender research project being quietly kicked off in ILRI’s N’Dama Lounge was, in its way, as much an historic beginning as the advanced labs being opened further down the hill. Scientists at ILRI and elsewhere have known for years that more—much, much, much more—should be done to address women’s issues in agricultural development. And they have struggled for years to incorporate women’s issues into their research programs. With little success.
 
Women continue to have fewer assets than men
If small-scale agriculture remains the backbone of most developing-country economies, women remain the stuff that makes up that backbone. Across nationalities, cultures and religions, women more than men tend to invest their time and energy and income in the stuff that matters most to most of us, with the greatest benefits provided to the greatest numbers of poor. Yet women have fewer assets than men—whether we look at land, natural resources and other tangible assets or less tangible ones like human capital. This gap between men’s and women’s assets not only reduces agricultural productivity, but also restricts women’s decison-making power, which affects such vital matters as sustainable food production, children’s nutrition and education, and economic development. 
 
That’s what we know. Not what we do. And the disconnect between what we know to do in ‘gender’ issues in agricultural development and what we do do has been getting bigger and more glaring every year.
 
When pigs fly, we used to say, not so long ago, we will all be working to help women help the rest of us in development—just because that’s what women tend to do, regardless of their material circumstances. The disjunct between what women do for agriculture and what we in agricultural research and development do for them, we said, was a disgrace. And then we would sigh and crawl back into a ‘what to do?’ cynicism. What our staff lacked, we said, was the training and technical assistance needed first to identify and then to address disparities in agricultural development and in assets. That’s now changing. At ILRI the change is due to the institute’s recent hiring of people who know what to do—and are ready to do it.
 
These new staff and positions include some of the best scientists in the world who are champions of gender research in agricultural development. These relatively new ILRI staff include Jemimah Njuki, a Kenyan leading sociologist in gender and agriculture studies; Nancy Johnson, an American agricultural economist and poverty analyst; and Canadian Patti Kristjanson, a long-term ILRI economist who just two years ago launched a 'Women and Livestock Challenge Dialogue'. (In January of this year, Kristjanson moved to the World Agroforestry Centre, across town from ILRI, to lead a research team that is part of a new global climate change initiative involving all 15 centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, to which ILRI belongs.) These three women formed a Gender, Poverty and Impacts research team which, despite starting only one-and-a-half years ago, has already created the momentum across ILRI for re-focusing on gender and agriculture.
 

10GenderWorkshop_AtPresidentialRedCarpet_JohnMcDermottAndJemimahNjuki

ILRI PUTS WOMEN'S ISSUES FRONT AND CENTRE: Jemimah Njuki, a Kenyan expert in gender and agriculture and impact analysis working for ILRI, waits with ILRI's deputy director general-research John McDermott, a Canadian veterinary researcher, beside the red carpet laid down at ILRI's entrance for the presidential visit happening at the same time, in front of an office building down below (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).
 
Can a few women make a difference?
Can a few committed women and some supportive men make a big difference in gender research for development? With institutional support, we're betting on it. ILRI’s seriousness about, and new serious expertise in, empowering women farmers and marketers got the attention of other groups working toward the same goal. The ILRI group has joined forces with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) team of Ruth Meinzen-Dick and Agnes Quisumbing, long-time researchers on gender and agriculture.
 
This inception workshop for the ‘Gender, Agriculture and Assets Project,’ held from 5–7 November 2010, is a 3-year initiative of IFPRI and ILRI funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The overall aim of the initiative is to improve rural livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia by helping agricultural development programs significantly reduce inequalities, including disparities in assets, between men and women.
 
The workshop brought together research and development partners from different organizations. In addition to IFPRI and ILRI, these included BRAC, CARE Bangladesh, East Africa Dairy Development project, Fintrac Inc, Grameen Foundation, Helen Keller International, International Rice Research Institute, Kickstart International, Land O’Lakes, Rural Development Institute, Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility initiative at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, and the World Vegetable Centre (AVDRC), as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the United States Agency for International Development.
 
As part of the initiative, the team will evaluate some 10 agricultural research and development projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, and others to identify the impacts of these projects on women’s assets and to clarify which strategies have been successful in reducing gaps between men and women in access to, and control of, assets.
 

10GenderWorkshop_RuthMeinzen-Dick2_IFPRI

THINKING BIG: IFPRI's Ruth Meinzen-Dick gives an overview of the ambitious aims of the Gender Assets Gaps project (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).
 
The project is based on several premises: (1) that control over, and ownership of, assets is a critical component of well-being, (2) that increasing control or ownership of assets does more to help create pathways out of poverty than increasing incomes or consumption alone and (3) that the different kinds of assets addressed by a project—whether tangible or intangible, for example, or whether defined as natural, physical, financial, human, social or political ‘capital’—matter. Project staff are investigating the control of assets because who controls assets in households matters a lot. Household members typically do not pool all resources or agree on what their scarce resources should be used for. The benefits of policy changes in any given household or community are determined largely by who in the household or community is the main beneficiary of the new resources. And we now have evidence from many countries that increasing the resources under the control of women not only improves the nutrition and health of children, but also increases agricultural productivity and household incomes.
 
Astonishingly, although women make a significant contribution to agriculture in developing countries and are much more likely than men to use their (scarce) resources to improve the nutrition, welfare and well-being of their families, they are still neglected in most agricultural research and development programs. At a Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development, held in Montpellier, France, last March (2010), IFPRI’s Ruth Meinzen-Dick argued that accounting for gender in our research and development work is not an option but a necessity if we are going to reduce world poverty and feed the world’s growing populations (which are expected to peak at mid-century, falling after that): ‘Changing agricultural research and development from male-dominated to gender-equitable is not merely an issue of political correctness or ideology; it is a matter of development effectiveness that can benefit everyone.’
 
Although getting reliable, accurate and timely statistics disaggregated by gender remains a formidable challenge for most countries (in 2010, the United Nations found that no census had been carried out in the last three decades in 41 per cent of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa), what we know is probably enough to be getting on with. The following should give a flavour of the depth and scope of the issues.
 
More women than men:
  • own no land
  • are poor and hungry
  • are illiterate
  • are refugees
  • are living with HIV (in Africa)
  • are caring for those living with HIV/AIDS.
Most women:
  • work longer hours than men
  • work in jobs with lower pay, status, power and authority than men
  • get paid less than men for doing the same work
  • provide most of the family labour and are unpaid for that labour
  • bear double responsibility for household and farm work
  • receive a fraction of the agricultural extension and support services provided to men
  • have half the education levels of men
  • have less access to health care services than men
  • have fewer legal rights than men.
Flying pigs?
Fortunately, as detailed and dissected in this inception workshop, projects from South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Nepal) and sub-Saharan Africa (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, DR Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Zimbabwe) have potential to address such asset disparities.
 
These projects are working across the spectrum of women’s rural livelihoods and concerns in these regions, from animal husbandry to vegetable genetics, from nutrition and sociology to agricultural economics and development management. An enumeration of some of the more obvious specific topics tackled in the projects presented at this workshop gives some idea of the broad disciplinary expertise demanded by those working to help women use agriculture to better their lives. These include dairy development, land transfer to girls, vegetable production, development and dissemination of nutrient-rich foods such as orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, value addition and processing, market information systems, high-value horticulture, crop management and irrigation.
 
Some of the opportunities described in overviews of these projects include the following.
  • Fully 94 per cent of the vendors in vegetable markets in sub-Saharan Africa are women.
  • Twice as many women as men in Uganda cultivate sweet potatoes, most sweet potato traders in towns as well as villages are women, and women tend to be less risk-averse in crop choice than men.
  • Contrary to previous reports, information tips delivered by mobile phone delivery of market and other agricultural information in Uganda show female farmers are very interested in receiving, and acting on, timely market information.
  • Legumes, once considered a 'woman's crop in much of Africa, can directly benefit the nutrition of poor households.
  • With increasing migration of men from rural to urban areas in South Asia, the roles of women are shifting from unpaid farm labourers to de facto farm managers.
  • Seedling nurseries are an opportunity for women because they require relatively little labour and can be established close to homesteads.
  • East African women dairy producers have most control of the milk they sell informally in the evening.
According to this group of scientists, the gender research areas in greatest need of addressing are:
  • Training in methods to integrate gender and asset-based approaches in agriculture development programs.
  • Evaluating agriculture development programs to understand what works and what does not work in building women’s assets and scaling out those strategies that work.
  • Collecting gender-disaggregated data. 
  • Initiating, and training in, gender-sensitive monitoring and evaluation work. 
  • Expanding measurements of income and consumption to include evaluations of how projects build assets.
 

Village food seller in Nigeria

THE TARGET, THE BENEFICIARY, THE HOPE: A young girl sells food to villagers outside Kano, Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).
 
The gender and agricultural assets initiative wants to learn from the most promising successes in these projects so as to help redress imbalances in power. The project leaders are dreaming and thinking big. They aim no less than pushing a ‘paradigm shift’ in agricultural development programming from ‘gender exploitive’ to ‘gender accommodating’ to ‘gender transformative’. This will of necessity mean taking on a lot, including ‘challenging the ideological, socio-cultural, economic, political and institutional frameworks and structures that create and recreate gender inequalities’. The project leaders are well aware of the danger that such targeting, if not done well, can lead to a backlash that further marginalizes rather than supports poor women. And they recognize the role of men in achieving gender equality.
 
This project will train teams of experts in how to use tools to assess the assets held by men, women and households as a whole and in how to integrate and measure the effectiveness of strategies for increasing the assets of women. To this end, IFPRI’s Ruth Meinzen-Dick proposed a conceptual framework for analyzing assets while ILRI’s Jemimah Njuki presented different strategies for addressing gender in agricultural programs, explaining why and how to complement quantitative tools in monitoring and evaluation with qualitative tools. IFPRI’s Dan Gilligan described methods for evaluating quantitative impacts and ILRI’s Nancy Johnson and IFPRI’s Agnes Quisumbing discussed different types of assets, data needs and data collection instruments. Project implementers and evaluators in this initiative are expected to work hand in hand over the life of the selected projects, using both qualitative and quantitative methods  to assess and document changes from baselines in levels of control and ownerships of assets.
 
And pigs, then, will perhaps have a chance to start to fly.
 
For more information, visit, the following:
The Gender Assets Gap project’s blog:
 
ILRI’s Gender & Agriculture blog:
http://agrigender.wordpress.com/
 
All slide presentations given at the workshop:
http://www.slideshare.net/genderassets/slideshows
 
Pictures of the workshop:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilri/sets/72157625322903538/
 
News of a forthcoming ILRI-organized workshop on ‘Gender and Market-Oriented Agriculture’, 31 Jan to 2 Feb 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:
http://agrigender.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/workshop-on-gender-and-market-oriented-agriculture-revised-dates/
 
Announcement of a forthcoming TEDx event at IFPRI, on 14 Devember 2010, in Washington, DC, with talks by ILRI’s Jemimah Njuki and IFPRI’s Agnes Quisumbing and Ruth Meinzen-Dick on gender as the ‘missing ingredient’ in many development policies and programs:
http://genderassets.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/upcoming-tedx-event-on-gender/
 
A filmed presentation by ILRI’s Jemimah Njiki making the case that animal agriculture can be used to help redress skewed resources available to rural women worldwide (in societies where women are unable to own anything else, farm animals provide women with incomes; and when those women’s incomes rise, the health, nutrition and education of their whole families also rise, with everybody winning):
http://ilri.blip.tv/file/3418393/

Biosciences for Africa: Fuelling africa’s agricultural revolution from within

BecA official opening, 5 November 2010

His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, president of Kenya, listens to Lydia Wamalwa, a plant molecular biologist, during the official opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub on 5 November 2010; in the middle, Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which hosts and manages the BecA Hub, looks on (photo credit ILRI/Masi).

A world-class research facility, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub, was officially opened in Nairobi, today, by Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki. This opening follows a scientific conference, Mobilizing Biosciences for Africa’s Development, which was held the day before at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which hosts and manages the new facility.

The BecA Hub is open for use by researchers from Africa and around the world who are working to improve African agriculture. The BecA Hub puts Africa’s research capacity on par with some of the world’s most advanced research institutes.

‘With the help of our many partners and investors, the research undertaken here will have a lasting impact in developing agriculture in Africa,’ says Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI.

The BecA Hub at ILRI brings the latest cutting-edge technologies into the hands of African graduate students and scientists. The Hub serves as a science integrator, allowing researchers to work together across institutional, national and disciplinary boundaries. There are already some 150 scientists, technicians and students using the facility today. The BecA Hub intends to double this number in the next five years. Since 2007, almost 1500 scientists have participated in BecA Hub conferences, workshops and short-term training and 100 graduate students and 57 visiting scientists have undertaken research at the facility.

‘This facility,’ said Kibaki, ‘will be used to develop what Africa requires and will serve as a focal point for Africa’s scientific community to enable them to carry out research to increase agricultural productivity and food security.’

Lydia Wamalwa, a Kenyan plant molecular biologist at the International Potato Center (CIP), says, ‘I left Kenya to start my PhD research with CIP laboratories in Lima, Peru. The opening of these facilities in Nairobi allowed me to return home to work on our agricultural challenges here in Africa.’

While the BecA Hub was formed to directly serve 17 countries in eastern and central Africa, demand for its use has been so strong that it now serves Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia, as well as other countries beyond the continent.

Research at the BecA Hub focuses on some of Africa’s biggest agricultural problems, including frequent droughts, devastating crop pests, diseases and weeds, lethal livestock diseases and unsafe foods.

‘We aim to help build Africa’s capacity by empowering its scientists to lead the coming African agricultural revolution from within,’ says the facility’s director, Segenet Kelemu, a leading Ethiopian bioscientist.

‘Many of the research findings generated so far look like they will find quick application in agriculture.’

African and international scientists are working here to develop drought-tolerant food crops. They are also working to improve food safety in Kenya by reducing the amount of its maize crop that is contaminated by aflatoxins, which cause cancer, stunt children’s growth, increase vulnerability to disease and, at high levels, kills. In addition, these scientists have developed and validated a new test for detecting bush meat being sold in Kenya’s butcheries, a diagnostic that can safeguard both wildlife populations and human health.

The BecA Hub began in 2004 as part of the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)’s African Biosciences Initiative, which was part of a framework of Centres of Excellence for Science and Technology and the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme. The Hub was also aligned with regional priorities set by the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa.

Aggrey Ambali, director of the Policy Alignment and Programme Development Directorate, NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency, says, ‘The BecA Hub offers Africa’s bioscientists the opportunity to conduct high-level research within the continent.’

The Canadian International Development Agency strongly supported the Hub by funding renovation of laboratories already existing at ILRI’s Nairobi campus and the construction of new facilities. The 10,000-square-metre laboratories already host many researchers from Africa’s national agricultural research systems and several centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. The facilities are now complete and the BecA Hub is ready to operate at full capacity.

The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, a long-time supporter, is helping to fund the Hub’s operations through 2014. And many other investors are supporting specific research and training projects.

‘The BecA Hub at ILRI serves as a focal point connecting African science to fast-moving scientific superhighways in the rest of the world,’ says Knut Hove, chair of the ILRI Board of Trustees.

For example, BecA Hub graduate students have formed a group dedicated to bioinformatics. They are using the Hub’s high-performance computing platform, fast internet connectivity and bioinformatics expertise for ongoing peer-to-peer training. The group has organized international workshops and published a paper in a leading international journal. Some of these students have been awarded scholarships from the Australian Agency for International Development; Nescent, Durham, USA; and EMBL‐European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge, UK.

Romano Kiome, permanent secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, says that Kenya is proud to host a facility that is allowing leading African scientists to return home to work on African problems.

‘The BecA Hub,’ says Kiome, ‘should help this continent become a breadbasket for the world.’

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For more information on the BecA Hub, visit http://hub.africabiosciences.org

Listen to and watch the BecA official opening speeches on the following links:
Podcasts
Short videos